2021 Was a Big Year for Changes in the Workforce, But 2022 Will be Bigger

Published April 22, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought numerous changes to our daily lives, including the workforce, which saw a significant shift.

The finance and accounting sector, in particular, has been deeply affected as the pace of the modern workplace was exacerbated by COVID-19 and has become a pressure cooker for controllers and their teams as they faced tighter deadlines, expanding compliance obligations, a shift to remote work, and higher scrutiny from management.

In fact, according to a recent study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, this increasingly intense atmosphere has led to more than half of accountants admitting depression and anxiety causes them to dread work, and 43.5% believing their job is a key contributor to poor mental health. To make matters worse, fewer individuals are joining the accounting profession. Enrollment in James Madison University’s School of Accounting has dropped 34% in the past four years, and CPA firms’ hiring of accounting grads is also down 30%.

The pandemic has encouraged businesses to rethink the way we work and embrace changes that will be essential to their survival. Here are my predictions for the accounting industry in 2022:

An increase in automation will enhance teams and drive greater productivity

Automation has massive potential to benefit workers, particularly individuals in the finance and accounting industries, because it helps streamline and shorten mundane or repetitive

processes, improves work-life balance for employees, and empowers companies to scale and innovate in an increasingly competitive industry.

Automation tools allow for processes to be standardized, streamlined and shortened, while also reducing the risks of missteps, ultimately helping teams work more efficiently. Forrester, a market research company, has found that when automation is introduced, close cycles take, on average, three to five days and audits take 40% less time. Further, when teams are able to automate their processes, employees have about 25% more time to pivot to deeper and more purposeful tasks, like collaborating with colleagues on strategy, or brainstorming innovative ways to drive progress. Additionally, when employees have a more positive headspace and time, they’re able to uphold healthier work-life balances and combat burnout, something we’ve seen become considerably more important in the era of COVID-19.

Lastly, automation tools take control of mundane functions and allow teams to focus on scaling, modernizing and driving innovation, like expanding the organization through IPOs and mergers and acquisitions, giving them a leg up in increasingly competitive industries.

Virtual and hybrid teams will be the norm for companies

Two years ago, companies across the world ushered their employees out of offices to work from home. At first it seemed like a temporary solution; however, it’s now clear that virtual and hybrid work is here to stay. Remote work has not only created new job opportunities, but offered more flexible schedules to employees, ultimately boosting happiness and productivity and lowering attrition rates.

Several studies have shown employees are eager to continue a flexible working environment: Future Forum’s Global Pulse Survey reported the number of remote or hybrid workers increased by 12% in the past year, Microsoft reported 70% of employees want to keep the remote work option we’ve seen flourish in 2020 and 2021, and Harvard Business Review reported that more than 90% of employers are planning to adopt a hybrid working model this year.

In 2022, we must move past the “remote versus office” debate. The future of work is flexible and provides the key to employee satisfaction and productivity. This new modern workforce will meet employees where they are instead of form-fitting workflow to one style.

Companies will focus on boosting culture and employee retention through training

In addition to implementing virtual and hybrid options for employees, companies will look to boost employee culture and happiness by providing their employees with the tools and skills they need to be successful.

A study from Gartner found that 58% of the workforce will need new skill sets to do their jobs successfully. The total number of skills required for a single job has been increasing 10% year-over-year since 2017, yet there is an emerging skills gap due to ongoing business disruption and rapidly evolving needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As businesses look to reduce attrition, ensuring employees have the training and skills they need to excel is critical. In fact, major tech giants like Facebook and Twilio are increasingly paying candidates to learn vital skills on the job to fill in the gaps, according to Gartner.

When companies focus on boosting company culture, particularly by giving employees the time and resources to advance their career, the companies themselves typically achieve up to 29% higher profit, 19% higher sales, and a 72% lower attrition rate, according to Gallup. It’s truly a win-win.

After a tumultuous two years, the workforce is due for some necessary changes, particularly the finance and accounting sector. As companies and businesses rethink the way we work, begin to focus more on employee happiness and retention, and prepare for a new year of growth and success, these three trends are sure to rise to the top.

(Source: AccountingToday – Audit & Accounting – Voices – February 28, 2022)